Minister of Transport Simon Bridges believes New Zealand can be a testbed for new transport solutions that would go a long way towards improving traffic flows, particularly in Auckland, reports Graham Skellern

Auckland and other main centres in the country must start looking at the latest intelligent transport solutions, as much as building new roads, to reduce traffic congestion, says the Minister of Transport, Simon Bridges.

"Today, we have a better sense that we can sweat our assets fully through better use of the [transport] network, and move people around more easily," he says.

"We have the same issues, as overseas, of high-growth cities requiring significant investment, and there is smarter intelligent technology around that has the potential to improve the network.

"We need to have conversations about the best practices that are coming our way."


Bridges last week attended the Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) World Congress in Melbourne to promote New Zealand as a test bed for new technologies.

"Christchurch Airport is trialling driverless shuttles and Wellington smart motorways and we will see more of this. We are in a better place to test more of the ITS technologies than in the states of Australia."

Bridges says the Government has committed to a $24 billion investment plan for Auckland transport projects over the next decade. "Once we have done that, we can't keep adding lanes. It becomes more expensive with less gain, and introducing network demand management can be a better use of assets."

Bridges wants to meet the new Auckland Mayor Phil Goff and set up a joint team to work through "the complex issues" such as safety and regulation of introducing demand management and ITS technologies.

"The bottom line is that Auckland is a top priority and I want to co-operate and work collaboratively with the new council, and that involves sticking with the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP). We are investing more but then again we have to get smarter as well."

The ITS technology includes using data to monitor and control motorway traffic such as in Wellington.

"The data identifies when and where the congestion is and looks at changing the speed limit to get a better flow or direct people to other parts of the network. We will get better at this over the next few years.

"New Zealand Transport Agency has struck up a partnership with a large Silicon Valley technology company which is using big data to say where every bus is on the network, how many people are on it and how much they paid.

"We can understand the load factors and do a better job of optimising the public transport network with intelligent solutions."

Bridges suggested variable network pricing, as used in Singapore, might help ease traffic congestion. "ATAP is looking at the evidence of charging based on the time of day and distance travelled. Smart pricing may help move people around Auckland better, and down the line after investing in more public transport and roads - we have to talk about this."

During his visit to Melbourne, Bridges took a ride in a driverless bus.

"That got me thinking about rapid transit in Auckland. Autonomous bus rapid transport (BRT) could be an alternative to light rail trams. It's worth exploring - buses are cheaper. Autonomous BRT could provide quick transportation into a platform without significant infrastructure cost."

Bridges has developed "a liking" for connected and autonomous vehicles.

"They brake if you are too close to a car in front, they stay in their lane, they back into parks without assistance, they interact with traffic lights and know when to stop and when to go.

"These are the sorts of technologies coming at us right down to fully autonomous vehicles, what they call Level 5, where there are no hands and the drivers don't do anything. That has some interesting possibilities for us."

Bridges also sees great possibilities for ride sharing based on the Uber principle. "This is coming ready or not and technology companies are spending billions in this area. If people share rides through using an app and we move from 1.2 people per vehicle to two and more, then that is very significant in easing congestion.

"We can incentivise more people to get out of sole occupancy of a vehicle and into a ride-sharing experience. We can also do ticketing through mobile phones and people can pay their way themselves."

Bridges says the Government has to harmonise the regulatory approach to enable the introduction of ITS technology.

"For instance, there are cyber security issues if we go fully digitised. We need to make sure the vehicle is connected to the technology for interacting with traffic lights and the roading network.

"Cyber security cannot be taken lightly but that doesn't stop us moving down this path. We have to be clever and alive to the pitfalls involved with ITS technology," he says.

"To ensure we can realise these benefits, testing and trialling opportunities are needed to help us understand how new technologies will work in different environments, and what we're going to need to do to get ready for them."

Bridges is speaking at the NZCID Building Nations Symposium in Auckland today on "The future of Transport Infrastructure" during the Disruptive Technology session.